Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” has been facing accusations of whitewashing in the weeks leading up to its premiere.
The movie, which stars Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, is based on the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name.
In VanderMeer’s sequel, “Authority,” the characters played by Portman and Leigh are described as being of Asian and Native American descent, respectively.
“Writer/director Alex Garland is not being true and honest to the characters in the book,” Media Action Network for Asian Americans board member Alieesa Badreshia said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
“He exploits the story but fails to take advantage of the true identities of each character. Hollywood rarely writes prominent parts for Asian American and American Indian characters, and those roles could’ve bolstered the careers of women from those communities.”
Sonny Skyhawk, founder of American Indians in Film and Television, described the casting as “Whack-a-Mole diversity replacement.
“Just when you finish objecting to one white-washed casting, another one pops up,” he said in a statement.
Garland, who also wrote “Ex Machina” and “28 Days Later,” said he began writing the “Annihilation” script when only the first book had been published.
“This is an awkward problem for me, because I think whitewashing is a serious and real issue, and I fully support the groups drawing attention to it. But the characters in the novel I read and adapted were not given names or ethnicities. I cast the film reacting only to the actors I met in the casting process, or actors I had worked with before. There was no studio pressure to cast white. The casting choices were entirely mine,” Garland said in a statement to TIME.
“As a middle-aged white man, I can believe I might at times be guilty of unconscious racism, in the way that potentially we all are. But there was nothing cynical or conspiratorial about the way I cast this movie.”
Portman, who plays Lena, said the whitewashing “does sound problematic.”
“We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of color, Native Americans — I mean, we just don’t have enough representation,” Portman told Yahoo! Entertainment.
“And also these categories like ‘white’ and ‘nonwhite’ — they’re imagined classifications but have real-life consequences … And I hope that begins to change, because I think everyone is becoming more conscious of it, which hopefully will make change.”
Leigh also said the complaints are “probably a valid criticism.”